Sex Education

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Courtesy Robotclaw666

From the film Juno to the series Teen Mom to Bristol Palin to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo – teen pregnancies, fictional or not, are commonplace within American society. And although the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19, teen pregnancy still happens.

So how do we learn about sex and teen pregnancy in America? If you were like me, you probably learned about sex before you were exposed to the visually disturbing photos of syphilis in your high school health class. Maybe a sister, brother, friend or maybe, just maybe a parent informed you of the birds and bees from an extremely skewed perspective. From there you probably figured it out by piecing together snippets of Hollywood blockbuster sex scenes and heresay.

I did not take this said health class until my junior year of high school. It was only a semester-long class and was a graduation requirement. We learned about “sexual health” for about two weeks towards the end of the semester. Basically we were shown pictures of various warts and diseases and watched an outdated less than made-for-TV movie about a promising young man who got a girl he somewhat cared about pregnant and had to work in an ice cream shop for the rest of his life.

This teaching format was a joke for more than the obviously reasons. My hometown (Pueblo, Colorado) has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates per capita in the country (60.4 per 1,000 women aged 15-19). So while I was forced to see grotesque pictures in class, the fear of sex and pregnancy was doubly compounded by seeing bumped bellies walking my high school hallways. Once in the public eye, either in classrooms or on television screens, teen pregnancy becomes just another scare tactic.

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Obviously scare tactics and “just say no” tactics fail as forms of prevention. But they succeed in ascribing the female individual who “failed” in some way by not abstaining from sex at a young age. Our society utilizes biopower to make visual examples out of the bodies of these teenage mothers. When, in actuality, our society is failing by not providing these individuals with the necessary education they need to protect themselves, and then publicly shaming and ridiculing them for their ignorance.

Yes, sometimes pregnancy accidentally happens to informed people. But it is preventable, and needs to be addressed in the public school system. It is part of our health education. I learned about how to brush my teeth in kindergarten. A dentist came into the classroom and taught us how to brush and floss. I shouldn’t have had to wait 11 more grades to learn how to put on a condom.

Where there is hope, there is a market.

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Courtesy of ejhogbin

Over the years, obesity has entered our social dialogue through a variety of filters ranging from television segments to Lap-Band advertisements and promotions. Often the two worlds collide and we see celebrities and Reality TV Celebs endorse radial weight loss procedures.

In her work Happy Re-birthday: Weight Loss Surgery and the ‘New Me’, author Karen Throsby notes how the recent fascination with obesity has affected the steady increase in weight loss surgeries. Throsby states that weight loss surgery is seen as a last resort to those individuals who have battled with their weight over the years. And although weight loss surgery is incredibly invasive and dangerous, individuals still opt to go under to loss weight.

Throsby notes the discourse of “the new me” is a familiar trope that we often see within the narratives of normative bodily transformations. When we analyze these narratives within the context of weight loss surgeries, we notice that transformative procedures are often marketed with these “new me” values. And where there is hope, there is a market.

Recently, Lauren Manzo – the daughter of The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Caroline Manzo, underwent surgery to get the Lap-Band. Manzo had previously tried methods like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to lose the weight, but decided on the Lap-Band because she felt as though she was in a “very unhealthy” place in her life. Manzo, of course, is noting her emotional health as well as her physical health in this statement. To her, the Lap-Band was not “an easy fix” but a solution to get to a happier, healthier Lauren Manzo.

Stories similar to Lauren’s pop up all over the ‘fatosphere’ – an online community of fat bloggers and designated fat activists. In her work ‘A beautiful show of strength’: Weight loss and the fat activist self’ author Zoë C. Meleo-Erwin notes the conflicts that arise between fat activists and patients undergoing weight loss surgery. Meleo-Erwin explores the experiences of these two groups and claim they can be understood through the lens of biopower as well as through Foucault’s theory of governmentality.

Concepts of a “healthy” body and an obesity-driven health crisis are more controlled by societal influence (cultural and political) than by physical health. Again we see this in extreme regimentation plans practiced through obese people who are trying and lose weight “naturally”. For any other person, these extreme limitations would be considered dangerous, and might just warrant an eating disorder. But if you are obese, somehow you lose a little bit of personhood to the epidemic of obesity. Your body is a warning and ignites moral panic. And although fat activists are fighting to restructuralize this notion of obesity and fatness, they face the omnipresent opponent created within our society through biopower.

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Courtesy of Tobyotter

And so our country has capitalized on this epidemic – providing us with a bevy of surgical procedures, Reality TV opportunities, diets, and diet pills. It is important here to recognize the different behaviors society displays towards “fat” women versus “fat” men and how a familiar trope of the ideal feminine body is called into play.